(Persia Digest) - A university professor in the US believes: It is very unlikely that the United States would ease sanctions should Iran withdraw from the JCPOA or worse if it leaves the NPT. Most likely, such actions would increase the risk of a military attack on Iran.

Tensions between the US and Iran have been on the rise in recent weeks. Although President Trump says he does not want war, he has threatened Iran with “complete obliteration”. In return, Iran has shown its readiness to defend itself by downing a US drone in its airspace. It will also begin the second phase of scaling back its commitments under the 2015 JCPOA nuclear deal on 7 July. The EU has warned Iran against abrogating the JCPOA.

Persia Digest (PD) has conducted an interview on this topic with Shireen Hunter who is a Research Professor at the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington DC, and she has published many books and articles on Iranian issues. Her latest book is entitled "Arab-Iranian Relations: Dynamics of Conflict and Accommodation."

You can read the interview here:

Iranian politicians, and especially its military commanders, believe the chances of a military strike on Iran by Trump are minimal. As Trump’s presidential campaign has been formally launched, does such an interpretation also exist in the US (officials, the media, public opinion).

Opinions in the United States regarding the chances of a military conflict between Iran and America vary. Some believe that given Trump's personal aversion to war, he will stop short of attacking Iran. However, others fear that he might be pushed by some of his advisors in the direction of war. In addition to Pompeo and Bolton, some military leaders also favor war. Even among democrats there are some staunch Israel supporters who would support Trump if he attacked Iran.

Also, contrary to the widespread belief that war undermines a president's chances of reelection, at times of war the public generally rallies around the incumbent president. So, the fact that Trump is in campaign mood should not reassure Iran. There is also the risk of accidental war. The recent incident of the shooting down of the US drone could very well have degenerated into a much worse conflict. Trump is also very sensitive to slights and insults and might react out of proportion to such insults coming from Iranian leaders. In short, any sense of complacency on the part of Iran and its military leaders entails serious risks. Iran should plan for the worst case scenario and try to avoid it.

Iranian officials, including President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif, have repeatedly said that Iran will not negotiate under pressure, but it will respond to politeness with politeness. Why is President Trump not willing to travel down this path instead of applying maximum pressure to reach its goal (negotiations for a deal with Iran)?

On some occasions, Trump did soften his tone and asked for unconditional talks which was a change from Pompeo's position; he demanded that Iran first meet twelve conditions. The problem is just as Iran sees submitting to talks to be against its national pride and dignity, Trump, too, cannot appear to have caved in to Iran. The way out is for both sides to make simultaneous concessions which could save face and pride. Tit -for tat escalation even if verbally is very dangerous.

Despite compliance with the JCPOA (as confirmed by the IAEA), Iran has faced a severe sanctions regime over the past year. If Iran leaves the JCPOA, it will face even further sanctions. So, what policy should Iran adopt?

The fact is that Iran does not have many good options. It is very unlikely that the United States would ease sanctions should Iran withdraw from the JCPOA or worse if it leaves the NPT. Most likely, such actions would increase the risk of a military attack on Iran. Under the current circumstances, as difficult as it might be, Iran should opt for a policy of negotiation with America and in general engagement in a process of resolving its differences with the United States. The fact is that there are no bilateral issues between Iran and the U.S. Most of their differences relate to ideological issues and Iran's regional policies, including its declared intention to force America out of the Middle East.

The reason Iran's nuclear program became such a serious concern for America was because of these differences. This is, for example, in sharp contrast with American approach to Pakistan. The reason America does not object to Islamabad's nuclear weapons is because Pakistan is not involved in the Levant and does not concern itself directly in the Arab-Israeli conflict. The single most important cause of tension between US and Iran is the issue of Israel.

Many international analysts believe that maximum pressure to change Iran’s approach has failed, or it will not lead anywhere. What will Trump do if he reaches the same conclusion? Would his Plan B be a war?

Maximum pressure has not worked on one level in that it has not forced Iran to come to the negotiating table. However, at another level it has worked very well. Iran now is economically and socially more fragile than say five years ago. Economic pressures could eventually also lead to political turmoil. Therefore, Trump can do nothing and just maintain the status quo and watch Iran gradually unravel. As the experience of the last few years has shown, nobody, including Iran's so-called partners China and Russia, has been willing to help Iran in defiance of America. But for Iran the current situation is untenable. If Iran responds to sanctions by attacking American concerns in the region it would trigger an American attack. In short, Iran's options are very limited indeed.

Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, has always said that “the world is in transition and the US is no longer a superpower who can have all his wishes granted.” But by leaving the JCPOA, Trump has made other countries abide by his unilateral sanctions on Iran over the past year. What is your opinion on Zarif’s view?

Foreign Minister Zarif is not a realist when it comes to the analysis of world politics and the international system. True, the world is in transition, but such transitions take a long time, and at the moment Iran does not have the luxury of time. Also, it is true that because of the rise of other powers America's relative power has declined. But among existing powers America still remains "primus inter pares" and it is still the most powerful state both economically and militarily. Moreover, what he forgets is that others, including Russia and China, do not harbor the same level of animosity towards the US that Iran has shown after the 1979 Revolution.

They challenge US on specific issues of direct concern to themselves, but they have not challenged America at a systemic level. Moreover, the realities of international trade and financial system gives America an edge over other countries. China depends on US trade as does Europe. Therefore they are unwilling to support Iran in its confrontation with America. Whatever advantage Iran might provide them cannot compensate for the loss of American market In short in confronting the US Iran is pretty much alone. I even doubt that in case of a military conflict Iran's so-called proxies in the Middle East would attack America and thus endanger themselves. Everybody in the last forty years has manipulated Iran's conflict with America to their own benefit and have consistently failed to support Iran in its dispute with the US beyond some empty words.

Even today, and despite statements to the contrary, China and Russia and even Turkey and Arabs, would not mind to see Iran exhaust itself in military conflict with America and divert America's attention from themselves. Counting on America's imminent demise as the premise of Iran's foreign policy is very dangerous, indeed.

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